City Council candidate Adriana Aviles’ backyard is filled with interruptions. First there were the birds –– blue jays flying between the branches of a large tree squawking. Then there were the neighbors popping over to say “hi.” That day, the neighborly exchange was over homegrown produce.
“Do you eat them with the seeds?––Excuse me,” her neighbor said as he interrupted our interview to give Aviles a mini red hot pepper.
“Yes, I do,” she said laughing.
“Oh my God. So hot, so good. Homegrown, too, so it’s like amazing,” she said turning back to me as her neighbor retreated to his patio.
During the nearly 14 years Aviles has lived in her home in Douglaston, she’s developed a close knit relationship with her neighbors and an understanding of the people in her community. She wants to use those bonds she has with her neighbors and make it work for them on the New York City Council, she said. That’s why this mother of three, president of the local Community Education Council and former NYPD officer is announcing her candidacy for the City Council District 19 seat.
“At this point I feel a strong –– it’s not even an urge –– it’s almost like a responsibility to be that voice for our community,” she’d said just minutes before the pepper interaction. “I get all that input from everyone so I feel that I’m the –– I should be doing that for them.”
Aviles is running to replace term-limited City Councilmember Paul Vallone (D-Auburndale, Bay Terrace, Bayside, Beechhurst, College Point, Douglaston, Flushing, Little Neck, Malba, Whitestone). It was Vallone who put the idea in her mind in the first place, she said. She was meeting with him when he mentioned that his seat would be opening up. She thought about it for two years until she finally decided it was time to put herself out there.
So far she’s facing off against candidates Nabaraj KC, Queens Borough President Budget Director Richard Lee, former lawmaker Tony Avella, and Republican candidate Vickie Paladino, according to the New York City Campaign Finance Board.
Aviles experience working with the Department of Education (DOE) through the community council and as a parent, as well as her 20 years in the NYPD uniquely situates her to advocate for what she said are the two main concerns in the district –– education and public safety. Too often elected officials are former lawyers or entrepreneurs who’ve turned to politics and are disconnected from the city’s agencies and the issues.
Aviles is not.
As president of the District 26 Community Education Council, she’s been fielding phone calls from concerned parents from day one of the COVID-19 pandemic. The city hasn’t handled education well during the pandemic from the beginning, she said.
“I was getting texts and emails from parents during spring break,” she said. “They saw in their countries what was going on with COVID and they were coming here and they’re like, ‘We need to do something about this with our own children.’”
The recently delayed start to in-person education is a “mess,” she said. She wouldn’t be surprised if schools don’t open in person. She hopes they do, though. Her three children are signed up for hybrid learning.
What the parents wanted at the start of the pandemic and what they want now is good communication, she said. As their city councilmember, she would act as a conduit of information to make sure that everyone knew what decisions were being made, how and why.
“I would be on top of them,” she said about the DOE. “I’d be the pain in the rear almost, like, what’s going on? Do we put this out to our families? Where’s the communication for this? Who is in this meeting? Did you invite any families?”
She pointed to U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as an example of a representative who helps everyone feel informed through constant communication and the distribution of information even if it’s not the final answer.
“If you just put it out there for people to feel they’re part of what’s going on, I think it eases their anxiety,” she said. “I feel there isn’t enough of that with our city council.”
Then there’s public safety. Her community supports the NYPD, she said, and she doesn’t feel as though that comes through enough.
“We’re all about working together with our different city agencies, and a lot of the negativity against the police is not something we share,” she said. “I feel really bad that that voice has been very minimal.”
Aviles was an officer for 20 years so she understands the reality of policing, she said. She joined because as a Colombian woman, she felt as though she could help the Latino community because she could speak Spanish and translate. Twelve of her 20 years on the force she spent stationed in Corona which had a large Colombian population, she said.
As a Latina woman on the force, she said she agrees there needs to be changes within the department but she doesn’t think defunding is the answer. She’d rather reallocate within the department and put more resources towards training and weeding out bad apples. The end result would be better police officers who can interact with the city on a higher level, she said.
“Sure, we don’t need bigger guns. I agree, 100%,” she said. “But, put it towards something that can help us, help the police department work with the communities.”
It comes down to the budget for education too, she said. The DOE has the largest budget out of all the city agencies but they use it irresponsibly. They need to reallocate within their agency as well and find the money that’s wasted by paying for unused scaffolding around school buildings, for example, and put it to better use, she said.
Aviles and I chatted for a while. Long enough that we were interrupted by another passerby, this time the neighbor with the greenthumb’s wife. She waved at us from their patio, shouting pleasantries across the driveway.
I commented on how neighborly her street was.